“It feels like all we ever do in this world is break each others hearts.” These simple yet troubling words sum up my experience of reading Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person, the debut work of fiction from Poetry is Dead editor-in-chief, Daniel Zomparelli.
This collection of short stories is not all heartbreak, but there is an undercurrent of yearning, pain, and loneliness that ebbs and flows from tale to tale. These are stories about hooking up, breaking up, and the stories we make up. With recurring characters and themes, these interconnected tales follow several men on their life journeys and love’s follies.
There is the story of Steve, a monster in human skin who just wants to be loved. And there is Derek with his newly moved in boyfriend, whose relationship already appears to be on the rocks. And then there is Ryan who shows up at various points of Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person to share his many dating experiences. Both humorous and frustrating, Ryan is almost a protagonist, speaking for everyone else in his sometimes crass words and actions. Cycling through a number of one night stands, he drifts from guy to guy, never coming up with much more than a shallow sexual experience and a growing sense of isolation and cynicism, reflecting the myriad of ways in which we defend ourselves against pain.
At some points, I felt frustration over the callousness these characters displayed towards one another. My impression was that they were mostly jerks with a couple of diamonds in the rough. But, in many ways, these flaws were also refreshingly realistic. Zomparelli paints a vivid picture of his characters, weaving his words with sardonic wit, allowing the reader enough space to wiggle into situations from a bird’s eye view. I routinely found myself rooting for some characters, while wishing others would just grow the hell up. But the sense that they could be that person sitting next to me on the bus, or a loved one who is intimately connected to my own life never left me.
Everything is Awful is a unique slice of reality that challenges and gives pause for thought. Daniel Zomparelli writes from an experience that is autobiographical yet touches upon us all in our search for meaning. While stepping into Ryan, Derek, or even Daniel’s shoes we soon realize that the monsters are ourselves, and the ghosts are guilt that haunt us. This cast of characters, while sometimes careless are just like you and me: hurt individuals wanting only for a warm pair of wings to wrap us up in safety.